Codemasters has made a career of perfecting driving games. From GRID to F1 to DiRT, the developer has certainly done its best work when it comes to players behind the wheel of a mean machine.
Sometimes their quest to produce the best ends up outshining some major big budgeted driving simulators.
Before me move on, let me just throw out this disclaimer that I never reviewed or even played the first GRID game. I was aware of it, but never dabbled in it. What I found with GRID 2 is a driving game that isn't quite the scale or detail of a Gran Turismo or Forza, but much like a suped-up Volkswagen Golf, it has a lot of punch in a small package.
Having said that, GRID 2 does everything right with the driving aspects of the game. You get a real world feel to the driving aspect, so much that you can feel yourself slipping, sliding and overestimating turns when you're racing. It's a perfect mixture of street drifting and professional racing (F1/NASCAR), which is very evident right from the start of the first race. That perfect mixture of in-betweening, sets an arcade tone to the driving, meaning that first timers will be able to pick this game up and go without much frustration setting in. Don't get me wrong, you're going to crash the absolute shit out of your car more than one time, but it won't demand the perfection that Codemasters' F1 racing demands, or the need to learn the controls to drift. To put it simply, you're going to jump in with both feet and enjoy the swim, despite a little sunburn now and then. Who can argue with that type of gameplay? When we received this game for review this week, I had played the majority of it, but one our other editors popped into my office and picked it right up with little to no tutoring from the driving ace (that's me -- kidding); it's that sort of game.
With that said, as you can imagine the controls are pretty easy to pick up and go with, thus making the game easier. You use R2 to accelerate, L2 to brake -- tapping L2 while going around corners will send your vehicle into a drift. Timing the drift right (using the analog pads) allows for you to move forward in the pack pretty easily. The cornering for each car that you use differs from vehicle to vehicle. The game starts you with a Ford Mustang (Steve McQueen style from Bullit), which rides heavy and is easier to control, at least for me. The next vehicle you get is a Nissan, which doesn't have the stability of a Mustang when cornering, but is lighter with its body mass. Thus, the Nissan accelerates much faster. The controls are the same no matter what vehicle you're using, but the vehicles themselves are different enough to make the game challenging. You've seen this sort of stuff before with Gran Turismo, and GRID 2 features less controls and more cars to change the gamer's driving experience without much confusion.
As far as tracks go, you get a variety of tracks, but certainly nothing like what you would find in F1 or Gran Turismo. The tracks range from the mountainous areas of California (yes, there are wooded areas -- imagine that) to downtown areas of Chicago and Miami (and there are more tracks -- I'm just naming a few), so you get a nice variety of different tracks. Again, it's nothing like a Gran Turismo, but there's enough to have fun with. You also get some gorgeous night racing, which poses some challenges and a cool feature called LiveRoute. LiveRoute is particularly interesting because the track dynamically changes as you're driving on it. That doesn't mean that you'll be driving and the street raises into a bridge, nay-nay. What it does mean is that when you are driving through a track, it will add new (sometimes sudden) corners, twists and turns that you have to adjust to in real-time. You won't expect these changes and you won't see them being made, rather they will just appear after you turn a corner. It's a rush, a challenge and it's going to frustrate the shit out of some gamers, but it's damn fun.
Outside of LiveRoute tracks, the races change thanks to multiple modes of gameplay, and GRID 2 does a solid job with giving you some racing options. Sometimes you'll run an endurance race, or an eliminator (which is a cool tournament style of racing with multiple rounds), or even a time attack. There are plenty ways to play this game and because of the short time it takes to run races in the game (we're talking 2-3 minutes depending on racing mode), you'll be more inclined to try them all. Say what you will, but even the big racing titles out there sometimes have boring modes that seem to drag. A short racing persona, like what GRID 2 features, bodes well for things like time attack, which make me roll my eyes when I'm playing the same mode in GT.
Now, outside of gaming modes, GRID 2 spices things up a bit by adding a storyline and a completely made up racing series. You basically start as a street racing nobody that has to prove himself until he gets picked up by racing fanatic Patrick Callahan (doesn't he make brake pads?), who wants to throw our main character into World Series Racing (made up racing series, if you didn't notice). The better you do in the WSR, the more cars and lovely achievements you acquire. What's cool about this story is that it actually motivates players to do better, and your driving narrator is nice enough to push you along.
The real motivation of the game comes through the XP players acquire as they get better in the races. Even though you might come in fifth place or worse, you're always collecting fans. The better you get in races, and the more exciting you make them, the more fans you get, which equals out to better XP. XP is the life-blood for GRID 2, as it opens up more and more to the gamer. So, again, this creates more motivation for the player to continually replay tracks and improve. That, in turn, returns us to the fact that the races are real small spurts, so it doesn't feel like work to get more XP, which is a big deal if you want players to keep playing your game.
GRID 2 sounds fantastic, right? It is, but it's not perfect.
The main gripe I have with this game is that it simply doesn't feel like a big game. Everything happens so quickly that the game itself feels a bit small. It doesn't have that openness that a Gran Turismo or even a F1 Racing comes with. For example, you're limited with tracks and it feels obvious. Even though they switch the locales up, the tracks still feel very similar to each other. The loop in Miami isn't that far off from the tracks in Chicago. The turns feel the same, the streets feel the same, it all feels familiar -- even though the scenery has obviously changed. The tracks needed a bit more creativity and bit more variety, just so they could have their own personality. Even when the shroud of night comes down on the GRID 2 world, the tracks still feel the same. I'm guessing this is why LiveRoute was so important to GRID 2, as the dynamic track changing keeps the racing fresh (as well as the multiple modes), but it just isn't enough to keep GRID 2's tracks from feeling very similar to each other and in a very 'contained' world. That 'contained' feeling makes the GRID 2 world seem a lot smaller than it should for a racing game.
This complaint aside, one of the most impressive parts of the game is the visuals -- mainly the car and its destructive nature.
First, the pretty.
The bodies of the vehicles are gorgeous. While I can't say much for the sponsors and logos (that tend to look like bad photoshop skills in some instances), the shine/reflections, shadowing and shading of the vehicles as they're racing through the streets is pretty cool. The eye candy extends to the dust and environment effects that the car meets up with during races. This includes smoke front the tires, smoke from damaged engines and flakes of dirt kicked in the air. There is a lot of detail that goes into the cars and environments (lots of life in your surroundings) that you sometimes have to kick back and enjoy the visuals. Would you expect any less from Codemasters? Me neither.
While you're admiring the prettiness of the game, you best watch your ass before it slams into a wall. Why? Well, let me explain.
When you slam your Ford Mustang into the wall, it alters the look of the car. You might acquire a large dent in the side, or an obvious body deformation by the wheel. In most racing games, this means you have an ugly car. In GRID 2, this means your ugly car is tough to drive. For example, I misjudged a drift during a race, which had my car barreling into a barrier and pushing in my right front tire pretty significantly. I could have done a flashback and tried it again (rewinding the moment and having a go at the corner again in real-time), but I decided to push forward since the race was nearly over. I mean, a little body damage isn't really going to affect my driving experience, right? WRONG. The rest of the race had me fighting with the Mustang that wanted to pull right. As you can imagine, when you're trying to drift with a vehicle that wants to constantly pull right, it can be a wee bit difficult. While I certainly cursed myself for not using a flashback (which are limited -- you purist), I couldn't help from feeling absolutely astounded that damage to the car severely altered my driving experience. I loved it and thought it added a bit more flavor to the game, as well as some depth.
And trust me when you read this, I experienced a lot of 'flavor' and 'depth' in GRID 2. So much…flavor…depth.
Anyway, moving on!
GRID 2 offers up some solid single-player racing with some narrow multiplayer experience (sorry, didn't take to it as well, but some of you might love it -- plenty of modes) to keep MP crazies at bay. The real value of GRID 2 is how it offers up fast, fun spurts of intense racing without having to put gamers through the need to feel like professional racers (and train like them). It keeps the racing fun in the racing simulator and takes out the complication that so many big budget racing simulators tend to bring to the table; and the gaming world needs this type of racing.
I'll take a racing game that is short, sweet and fun any day of the week, as long as it's done right. GRID 2 is done right.